I was woken abruptly at 2.43am, Thursday 14th May to the sound of terror. The booming echo was unmistakable.
An M-49 grenade exploded in the street parallel to my flat. This was followed by the cracking of gunfire – whether return fire from the few soldiers stationed there or a continued attack on sleeping protestors I didn’t know. I attempted to work it out as I lay.
The fractious foray died away into the night. I remained awake until morning. Three people were dead, killed while they slept, with over 22 injured.
On the morning of Tuesday May 20th I woke, almost as abruptly, to the tense news that martial law had been imposed across Thailand. I wasn’t looking forward to the zone around my flat being surrounded by soldiers and possible vigilantes.
However, as you can see from these photos, some taken on the day the law came into force, people remained calm and I witnessed an easy-going camp here in Phan Fa, my locality.
Thai protest can be eye-opening to visitors. For the King’s Birthday celebration last December, the loudspeakers simply stopped, the roadway cleaned and huge floral tributes to the King were placed along the avenue. A heart-warming reminder of the way we love to see Thailand.
The country is certainly providing much blog material. Since November 2013 I’ve been photographing the camp life and include a number of those images here. Far be it from me to comment reliably on the politics. Photographs tell my story.
Turn right outside my apartment block and the once busy dual carriageway that is Radjadamnoen Road (see link at end), built as a beacon of Kingly worship in this historic area, replete with stunning floral tributes is now a shanty town of taut, blue, stripy tarpaulin, pink mosquito net domes, gruff faces and sandbag mountains, site of the seven-month long standoff between the PRDC (People’s Democratic Reform Committee – colour: yellow) and the Pheu Thai Party (colour: Red – ‘Red Shirts’), the current democratically elected government now under the ‘stewardship’ of a caretaker Prime Minister.
On May 7, 2014, the Constitutional Court dismissed Yingluck Shinawatra from office as a consequence of the unconstitutional transfer of a top security officer.
I think most feared the worst after this development- now we have a military coup. However, as I wandered the site over the following days things looked positive.
I spend time observing and photographing the people who live here, how their lives are affected. Most seem to be utterly immersed in making their displeasure heard – the whistles, the flags, the rhetoric.
As roads are barricaded and khaki-dresesed civilian ‘guards’ supervise entry and exit points, local businesses operate as best as they can. Food outlets tend to do a roaring trade.
What started as a jovial, festive and peaceful political protest in Bangkok in November last year, complete with live music, happy faces and an overwhelming sense of people power has, unsurprisingly led to violence.
The majority of Bangkokians are spared the protest camps. They may get loud marches passing through the vicinity. Phan Fa, here in my neighbourhood and Lumpini Park on the south-eastern side of Bangkok hold the crowds.
The Democracy Monument provides an impressive and recognisable backdrop to the protest site and was also the site of the ‘Red Shirt’ Pheu Thai party protests in 2010 which I also witnessed.
One hot, tense morning the clashes between police and protestors erupted.
As the daily temperatures reach the high 30s, long days of listening and waiting for updates is tedious, but the organisation of these camps is remarkable. First aid, massage, pharmacy and grocery supplies provide relief to hardened protestors.
Following the death of a child earlier in the year at the Ratchaprasong camp, keeping children near the sites is not encouraged. See caption, first pic.
As the stalemate drags on, the protests become a sideshow, while citizens get on with their lives.
I pass through the Phan Fa and Ratchaprasong sites on a daily basis, to and from work, keeping a safe distance of course.
Young soldiers have been stationed at street corners in this area for a couple of months and until now thankfully, remained stationary.
Since Martial Law, soldier numbers have grown. I still wince on seeing the high-calibre machine guns carried by the soldiers. Explicit reminder of what it seems to take to enforce the peace.
Thinking back to my camps in the stunning Blue Mountains of New South Wales in Australia, such a world away, I contemplate renewal there soon.
However, I can’t help feeling things will be OK… Even the soldiers are smiling. The Coup D’Etat is underway.
Related blog links:
1. King of the Roads – Radjadamnoen Klang, Bangkok.
2. I see red most days…
3. Red Shirt anti-government protesters still at my door…
1. Photo-library: Browse other images and/or purchase digital downloads for your home or business: http://warrenfield.com.au/
2. Warren Field Photography on FACEBOOK
3. National Geographic ‘Your Shot’
© Warren Field 2014
Taken on OLYMPUS Zuiko lenses.